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Sex, Drugs, Einstein, & Elves: Sushi, Psychedelics, Parallel Universes, and the Quest for Transcendence

by Clifford A. Pickover
Smart Publications, Petaluma, CA, USA, 2005
318 pp., illus. Paper, $16.95
ISBN: 1-890572-17-9.

Reviewed by Rob Harle


Reading this book is like taking a ride in a very fast car down a mountainous highway with thousands of hairpin bends. At each bend is a sign that flashes information. Just as you get towards the bottom of the mountain, whoops, spinout, back upwards towards the summit. Fasten your seat belts kiddies!

Sushi! God! Lord of The Rings! William S. Burroughs! Marcel Proust! DMT! LSD! Brain Surgery! Stellar Nucleosynthesis! plus hundreds of dissimilar titles are like signposts to snippets of information that even the most well read, educated reader will never have heard of. You will not find an in-depth discussion on anything, but that is not the purpose of the book. I’m not actually sure what the purpose of the book is, but it comes with a warning, "Book critics, beware! I ruminate and wander freely through a vast carnival of topics, seizing every opportunity to digress and explore mental tributaries" (p. xxix).

The title of the book is almost a cliché and just too obviously a hook with which to ensnare the bookshop browser as they stroll through hundreds of titles and cover/spine designs all vying for their attention. The book has almost nothing to do with sex at all, except for perhaps Annie Sprinkle’s favourite 24 that she insisted be displayed in the form of "an approximation to a vulva or labia shape" (p. 49). Pickover, who, by his own admission, is totally obsessed with words asked various famous people to list their 20 favourite words; he then calculates an obscurity index. There is a whole chapter devoted to such words games and Terraqueous Chrysoprases, thank you Bertrand Russell!

It is worth listing the various Chapter titles as they will forewarn the less adventurous reader what they are getting into. Chapter 1––On Fugu Sushi and Transdimensional Reality Worms; Chapter 2––The Quantum Mechanics of Hopi Indians; Chapter 3––Bertrand Russell’s Twenty Favorite Words; Chapter 4––DMT, Moses, and the Quest for Transcendence; Chapter 5––Brain Syndromes Open Portals to Parallel Universes; Chapter 6––From Holiday Inn to the Head of Christ; Chapter 7––The Business of Book Publishing: Unplugged, Up Close, and Personal; Chapter 8––Neoreality and the Quest for Transcendence; Chapter 9––Oh God, Einstein’s Brain and Eyes Are Missing and Chapter 10––Burning Man and the Conquest of Reality. There is also a Preface, Introduction, Epilogue, Notes, Further Reading, Index and an, About The Author. Phew!

The section, About The Author is hardly necessary; by the time we get to this section, we know pretty much all about Clifford A. Pickover. My one criticism of this book is the attempt, perhaps unconsciously, to build a monument to Pickover by Pickover. It becomes rather tedious and somewhat onerous digesting page after page––I have done this, I have published "n" number of books, I topped my class, I got my PhD fast from the best university (Yale), I’ve created "n" number of patents, and so on and on. As an example, he also claims: "I even use a related form of divination to create patents" (p. 69). Using Pickover’s example of using numbers to analyse all sorts of things, I counted the number of times he used the first person pronoun (or its associates) on one page. The result was a staggering eight percent of the total words.

Even though the chapter concerning book publishing deals largely with Pickover’s personal experiences, it is most revealing and contains important information for all authors, published or unpublished. As an example of the gems to be found in this chapter, concerning original manuscripts rejected by publishers, "Twenty publishers felt that Richard Bach’s Jonathon Livingston Seagull was for the birds. It went on to sell millions of copies around the world". "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance was rejected by more than one hundred publishers" (p. 170).

Putting the abovementioned criticism aside, and apart from some rather broad poorly thought out generalisations regarding the future of human beings (p. 244-245, as an example), this book is full of inspirational information, challenges to broaden our understanding of obscure though important areas of knowledge and fascinating little-known facts. Throughout the book Pickover hints at areas of science where concentrated research would most likely yield valuable knowledge. One such area concerns the visions and transcendence experienced by people from different cultures using the drug DMT. The book is highly entertaining, easy to read, and will be a good reference book for more things than you, I, or Horatio ever dreamed of.




Updated 1st January 2006

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